Thousands of people have fled a fresh wave of intercommunal clashes in South Sudan‘s eastern region of Pibor, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Thursday, adding it had suspended medical activities after its staff were forced to flee into the bush.
Brutal fighting has taken place between rival communities in the area in recent months, with clashes in May leaving over 200 dead, including an MSF staff member, the charity said in a statement. The latest violence erupted on June 15, it said.
“The fighting is now approaching Pibor town, in the east, with almost all residents choosing to seek refuge in the surrounding bush, including MSF staff,” said the statement.
The closure of the medical facility comes as more wounded are expected, as the height of the malaria season approaches and as the new coronavirus spreads in the country.
“What I have seen is extremely traumatic; I have seen signs of fear and witnessed extreme feelings of sadness in people’s eyes due to the recurring violence,” said MSF nurse Regina Marko Ngachen. “The fighters are raiding cattle but also burning houses, destroying property and looting,” she said. “I have seen patients with bullets still lodged in their bodies but due to fear, they have been forced to flee into the bushes before we could help treat them and we do not now know their whereabouts.”
South Sudan is emerging from a six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced.
President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the rebel leader who is now first vice president, reached a deal to form a unity government in February.
However, a lengthy political impasse over the leadership of interior states — finally resolved last week — created a power vacuum which UN special representative David Shearer said Tuesday had “caused conflict to escalate with violent incidents multiplying four-fold in two years.”
“This violence can no longer be pigeonholed as ‘intercommunal.’ Fighters in uniform have been spotted amongst them suggesting that organized forces may be joining the conflict which risks unraveling the ceasefire,” he said in an address to the security council.
On Tuesday Kiir formed a high-level committee tasked with trying to calm the situation in Jonglei state, where Pibor is located, the latest in a series of such efforts since independence in 2011.
The clashes last month were between old rivals the Murle and Lou Nuer communities, and local sources said currently members of the Dinka Bor community had teamed up with the Lou Nuer for a revenge attack on the Murle.